There were tense moments on Capitol Hill on Wednesday when Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo it it is fair to say that he "does not care about diplomatic security." Pompeo reacted firmly, saying “No,” during his first appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “You should not conclude that.”
Pompeo had been a member of a select committee of Congress that probed the 2012 Muslim terror attack at an American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, while Hillary Clinton was serving as Barack Obama’s secretary of state. American ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed, as were three other official Americans. Hillary Clinton became the focus of criticism of the handling of the attack and the fact that U.S. military help was tardily brought into play.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) asserted, “I think you can draw a line from this moment straight back to the most egregious example in recent memory of playing politics with foreign policy — and with a tragedy: the Benghazi Select Committee, on which you sat.” Engel added, "The political circus that was set up to tear Hillary Clinton down, as the Majority Leader admitted — that was used to impugn the character of one of your predecessors." Pompeo did not make a comment on the assertion.
Meeks brought up the subject again, telling Pompeo, “You scolded her!” and added, “You went after her with venom!” He said that Pompeo had criticized Clinton for her alleged inattention to diplomatic security in the wake of a State Department report about the Benghazi attack. “The insinuation was that therefore [that Clinton] was not interested in diplomatic security,” Meeks said. “If [the investigation] wasn't about bringing Hillary Clinton down at the time, then I ask you, Mr. Secretary, should we conclude that because you've not mentioned it one time, not once, should we conclude based upon that fact that you do not care about diplomatic security, Mr. Secretary?”
Pompeo denied the charge, Meeks tried to cut him off. After a brief exchange, Pompeo raised his voice to say, “You should know, the very first briefing I received as a nominee was from the head of diplomatic security.” When Pompeo added, “Never make an accusation [like that],” Meeks taunted him: “Oh, now the real secretary is coming out!” Pompeo replied, “We had an ambassador killed in Benghazi, Libya.”
Meeks then said that he believes Pompeo personally cares about the safety of American diplomatic personnel, but criticized the Trump administration for funding cuts. “I'm taking him at his word because something was not mentioned in a report does not mean that he doesn’t care,” Meeks said. “But, I think we can conclude that what does matter is how much money is appropriated for diplomatic security.” Pompeo took Meeks head on, defending his work on the Benghazi investigation. “Diplomatic security is not about dollars expended,” he said. "It's about delivering real security, it’s about getting the right outcomes. It's about having the right people in place. It's about being thoughtful about where you put people. We're going to take risks. We're going to be an expeditionary State Department. I think President Trump demands it, I think each of you do as well, but I'll take a backseat to no one with respect to caring about and protecting the people [of the State Department].”
In the annex to the 2016 report on the Benghazi affair, Pompeo joined Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in writing:
“Months before the attack one State Department diplomatic security agent viewed the situation as a ‘suicide mission’ where ‘there was a very good chance that everyone was going to die,’” the lawmakers wrote. “While we may never know for certain exactly why the State Department left Benghazi open in the face of such dangerous conditions, the most plausible answer is troubling. Secretary Clinton pushed for the U.S. to intervene in Libya, which at the time represented one of her signature achievements. To leave Benghazi would have been viewed as her failure and prompted unwelcome scrutiny of her choices. But when faced with a dire situation in Libya, Secretary Clinton had an obligation to act. And she had a clear chance to do so in August 2012 when presented with the facts in a memo from Assistant Secretary Beth Jones that painted a bleak picture of conditions in Libya. Yet, she failed to lead.”